Though not common, pregnancy can put some women at greater risk of severe or fatal stroke.
Stroke occurs when blood vessels are blocked or broken. An ischemic stroke occurs when fatty plaque or a clot blocks a blood vessel. The blockage deprives brain tissue of oxygen-rich blood. Without oxygen, brain cells quickly die, sometimes causing permanent disability or death.
When a blood vessel in the brain bursts, a hemorrhagic stroke occurs. The burst vessel bleeds into the brain, putting pressure on delicate brain tissue. The resulting swelling and pressure can also result in life-altering disability or death.
Hemorrhagic strokes are less common than ischemic strokes. Yet while only 15 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic, they account for almost 40 percent of deaths from stroke.
While stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the US, two new studies reveal that pregnant women and moms who have recently delivered are three to 10 times more likely to suffer hemorrhagic stroke. Why? Researchers believe the significant hormonal and physical changes that take place during pregnancy can drive up risk.
Risk Factors Make Some Women More Susceptible to Stroke
Researchers from McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas (UT) presented a study at the recent Pre-Conference Symposia of the International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles, California.
Using public source data, scientists from UT evaluated 3.3 million births at hospitals in Florida, New York, and California. Lead author Jennifer Meeks at the UT Department of Neurology said, “Women undergo a number of physiological changes while pregnant, so we hypothesized that pregnancy would confer a higher ICH risk. However, the scale of the increase was highly significant and strikingly greater than what was anticipated.”
Women in the study were an average of 28 years of age and were followed during pregnancy and after giving birth. Findings of the study offer important insights into the occurrence of potentially devastating strokes, including:
- Risks such as pregnancy-associated hypertension and diabetes increase the risk of stroke during and after pregnancy.
- The risk of a hemorrhagic stroke begins to rise in the third trimester and continues until well after birth.
- African-American women are twice as likely to suffer strokes as white women. Asian women also have greater risk than white women.
In a second study, researchers looked at data from 6.3 million first-time moms and found women with an “abnormal tangle of blood vessels in the brain,” known as arteriovenous malformation (AVM), are more 340 percent more likely to suffer hemorrhagic strokes.
Noting the danger, one study author remarked, “An AVM is like having a little bomb in the head, which creates an explosion of blood in the brain if it ruptures. When this happens it can put the mother and baby in considerable danger.”
These studies highlight the necessity of monitoring women at higher risk, including those with gestational diabetes and hypertension, as well as those who may already know they have an AVM. If you are pregnant or thinking of pregnancy, be sure to speak with your doctor about the right kind of monitoring for your pregnancy. If you believe that you or a loved one has not received the proper monitoring it could be a case of obstetric negligence and you should contact our firm right away.
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